President Waheed will not stand for re-election: PPM VP Umar Naseer

Vice President of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Umar Naseer, has said the government faces “no international pressure” to hold early elections and will remain in power until 2013.

Naseer also emphasised that he does not expect President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to stand  for election during presidential polls scheduled for next year.

PPM deputy Naseer told Minivan News today that beyond a few “powerful” members in the Commonwealth, the present coalition government, in which his party is represented, faced no international pressure to hold fresh polls this year.

The comments were made after former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom also claimed this week that international calls for early elections to be held in the Maldives have grown “faint” and were “not an issue” to foreign dignitaries he had met recently.

The government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has nonetheless faced criticisms from international bodies like the Commonwealth and the EU in recent months over its commitment to independently investigating how it came to power in February.

On April 16, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) warned it would consider taking “stronger measures” against the Maldivian government should it fail to revise the composition and work of an independent inquiry panel.  The panel, known as the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) was formed by the president to ascertain the exact details behind February’s transfer of power.  The Commonwealth has also recommended that early elections be called this year to overcome political uncertainty across the nation.

In a previous interview with Australian television, Naseer explained the perspective of the opposition demonstrators on February 7.

“We had a small command centre where we do all the protests. I command from the centre and give instructions to my people,” Naseer explained.

“On the protesters’ side, we were informing and educating the police and army through our speeches and television programs.”

Asked by SBS journalist Mark Davis if the opposition had made any other inducements, such as promises that they and their families would be “looked after” if they switched sides, Naseer said “there were.”

“We called on army and police and said that if a person was fired from his position because of their refusal to follow an unlawful order, the opposition would take care of them,” Naseer said.

President Waheed’s government has meanwhile insisted that presidential elections are not possible until July 2013 under the present constitution.  The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has refuted this claim, saying that fresh elections could be held within two months should the president resign from his position and hand over power temporarily to the parliamentary speaker. The now opposition MDP also stressed that it believes that the earlier elections can be held, the “better it would be” for the party.

Electoral defeat

Umar Naseer, who had previously served as deputy leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) before being dismissed, claimed that beyond the constitutional factors preventing elections this year, the MDP now also realised that they faced electoral defeat.

Recent by-election victories for the party, which have seen the PPM claim two island council seats and a seat in the People’s Majis, showed clear public support for the wider coalition government, Naseer said.

“If [general] elections were held right now, the MDP would be defeated badly,” he said. “The MDP understands this.”

Ahead of any presidential elections, Naseer claimed PPM was now focused on bolstering its presence in the Majlis after last month assuming the minority parliamentary leadership role.

The PPM now has the second highest number of MPs in parliament behind the MDP, which has retained majority leadership in the Majlis chamber.

Naseer claimed the party would continue pursuing a coalition that would allow it to replace the MDP as majority leader in the majlis.

“Our main focus now will be the elections in 2013,” he said.

Naseer added that with uncertainty over whether President Waheed would stand for election to head the national executive beyond 2013, the PPM would be working to strengthen the position of its own possible presidential candidate.

“My feeling right now is that [President Waheed] will not stand during the presidential elections,” he claimed.

Naseer’s comments echoed claims by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom during a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) gathering near Male’s artificial beach area on Thursday evening (May 3).  Gayoom, who served as the country’s autocratic ruler for 30 years before being voted out in the country’s first democratic elections held in 2008, said that he had been meeting various ambassadors accredited to the Maldives of late.

None of these ambassadors, he claimed, had talked about early presidential polls.

The former president added that the two parliamentary by-elections held last month – both won by government-aligned parties – were an indication that the same outcome could be expected nationally if presidential polls were held at present.

There were however mixed fortunes for the government during two island council by-elections held the same day last month, with the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) taking one of the available seats.

National inquiry

Gayoom also reportedly used his address to discuss the CNI that has been criticised by the Commonwealth’s human rights body, CMAG, for not being “independent” or “credible” in regards to its work.

During his speech, the former president claimed that despite some foreign criticism, it was up to the Maldives to resolve its own internal issues

“That does not mean we should not consider the advice of foreign partners as they would give us right opinions and views. However, we have to take such opinions and advise into consideration and use what is right for this country,” Gayoom was quoted as saying by local newspaper Haveeru.

The PPM won three out of six by elections held since February’s transfer of power.  Alongside these election results, Gayoom claimed that parliamentary approval of the appointment of a new cabinet and vice president –albeit after the MDP refused to participate – proved the legitimacy of the current government.

The former president also used his address to to discuss the future for the PPM, which is set to hold its national congress between September 13 and September 15 this year. Gayoom said that during the event, any member of the party would be allowed to contest for whatever positon they wanted

“This party would not function according to the whim of a single individual, me included,” Haveeru quoted the former president as saying.


Responding to the PPM’s statements, MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that Gayoom was trying to mislead the public over the international pressure the government was currently under.  Ghafoor said he believed pressure was increasing for early elections and an independent review of February’s transfer of power.

“We have got structural assurances from the 54-member state Commonwealth in the form of time frames for both early elections and the CNI review,” he said.  “These time-frames have also been backed by India and the US.”

Ghafoor claimed that the MDP was itself hoping for presidential elections to be held as quickly as possible, alleging that government-aligned parties were looking to stall polls for as long as possible in order to damage “independent institutions” like the Elections Commission.

“We believe that the sooner elections can be held in the country the better. While the government believe the later the better,” he claimed.  “What they want is to entrench themselves in power before elections can be held.”

Ghafoor alleged that similar attempts to entrench a government into independent institutions  had be seen this in many countries that have undergone apparent coups such as Honduras and Fiji.

Ghafoor said he believed that the time-frame set by CMAG for elections to be called during 2012, represented an awareness among the international community that the current government was trying to “entrench” itself into national institutions.

“Last week, we met here in Male’ with five Members of European Parliament (MEPs). They confirmed that they still stood behind CMAG and its calls,” he claimed.


UN sends delegation as UK urges judicial reform

A political delegation from the United Nations’ (UN) Department of Political Affairs (DPA) will arrive in Male’ next week to discuss the Maldives’ current efforts at judicial reform as part of its ongoing democratic transition.

The delegation, headed by UN Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, will meet with government officials, opposition leaders and civil society representatives. Revolving around the current situation the Maldives, discussions aim to identify opportunities to support democratic growth.

In November last year UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visited the Maldives and said the country had made “significant advances” during the first few years of its transition, but a gap still existed between the rhetoric and the reality on the ground.

The Commonwealth has also pledged to assist the island nation in its efforts towards judicial reform, while British Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Alistair Burt, is holding discussions with President Mohamed Nasheed to resolve the current stalemate.

“Although the [Maldives’] judiciary is constitutionally independent, the sitting judges are under qualified, often corrupt and hostile to the democratically elected regime,” said MP John Glen of Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Conservative party.

Glen further called on the House Leader to “urgently make time for a debate on judicial reform in the Maldives,” reads a press statement.

Leader of the House of Commons and Conservative Party MP George Young pointed out that the British High Commission in Colombo is involved. “We want to help Maldives to make progress towards democratic reform in the direction that my friend John Glen outlines,” he said.

The Maldives formally requested international legal assistance from the UN Human Rights Commission on January 22. Last year, ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) also appealed for international intervention in what it considered an “increasingly blatant collusion between politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and senior members of the judiciary.”

The Maldives government initiated a judicial standoff on January 16 when it ordered the military to arrest Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed after he filed a High Court injunction against his police summons.

Allegations against Judge Mohamed date back to 2005 and include misogyny, sexual deviancy, throwing out an assault case despite the confession of the accused, political bias, obstruction of police duty, disregarding decisions of high courts, deliberately holding up cases involving opposition figures, barring media from corruption trials, ordering the release of suspects detained for serious crimes without a single hearing, maintaining “suspicious ties” with family members of convicts sentenced for dangerous crimes, and releasing a murder suspect “in the name of holding ministers accountable” who went on to kill another victim.

In one instance Abdulla Mohamed was accused of requesting that two underage victims of sexual assault act out their attack in court, in front of the perpetrator.

The judge had previously been under investigation by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), but had successfully sought an injunction from the Civil Court against his further investigation by the judicial watchdog.

The JSC itself has itself been accused of perjury, embezzlement and corruption – by one of its own members.

The ongoing detention of the judge has polarised public opinion in the Maldives, resulting in three weeks of opposition-led protests which draw crowds of 200 to 400 nightly on Male’ calling for the judge’s freedom and the downfall of the government. Several police officers and protesters have been injured during the protests and a number of journalists have been the victims of targeted attacks.

In addition, a few government buildings and private property belonging to government officials have been damaged.

Protest leaders have pledged to continue the demonstrations until an “even stronger” protest on February 24. Meanwhile, MDP has gathered regularly at its party camp where activists have occasionally urged party members to “go out and confront the opposition”. No such order has officially been given, however MDP has asked party supporters to come to Male’ from surrounding islands for a demonstration on February 17.